Thursday, October 4, 2007

Rutgers in the News Again - Its Controversial Decision to axe six Olympic sports - and a new book by a long time critic.

The controversial decision by Rutgers athletic director, Robert Mulcahy, to cut six teams in order to trim the athletic budget by approximately $2 million dollars, continues to reverberate throughout the Rutgers community. Rutgers, in the wake of a projected $80 million dollar deficit, asked all departments, university-wide, to closely examine their budgets this past year.

Robert Mulcahy, stating that Title IX required him to cut mostly men's sports, made the decision to phase out men's heavyweight crew, lightweight crew, fencing, swimming and diving, tennis, and women's fencing - - all Olympic sports, and sports which developed Rutgers athletes in Olympians and national team members. According to the Wall Street Journal, Rutgers has produced 19 Olympic rowers alone.

Although Mulcahy claimed that Title IX required him to cut the men's teams, he simultaneously increased the budget for men's football, with a pay raise to the men's football coach, Greg Schiano, of $1.5 million dollars. ""Football is a separate issue -- I look at it differently from the rest of the sports. It raises far more money, and ultimately the success of football can carry the rest of our programs," Mulcahy said, according to the Wall Street Journal.

However, Rutgers Football does not make money - and according to the NCAA, 80% of all football programs nationwide lose money. A blogger just sent me an email that the Rutgers stadium required $80 million in funding - and that the men's tennis scholarship budget was a mere $29,500. Although I can understand a desire to restore a football team to prominence, feeding steak to 150 guys on the football team is excessive when other parts of the university are hemorrhaging, and other athletes and programs are sacrificed in the process.

Rutgers Football is doing well, however. And with that success, comes challenges. After defeating Navy last month, Rutgers football fans shouted profanities and "you suck" to Navy - which in my mind, constitutes the usual heckling at the end of a football game, especially with Jersey fans having imbibed one too many. Rutgers President, Richard McCormick, however, sent a letter of apology to Jeffrey Fowler, the Naval Academy's Vice Admiral, clearly embarrassed that Rutgers fans would harrass athletes headed off to Iraq.

The money spent on football and basketball has made William Dowling, a tenured English professor at Rutgers, irate. Dowling, a long-time critic of Rutgers athletics and its push into big time football and basketball, just penned a diatribe, "Confessions of a Spoilsport" which chronicles his 10 year effort to fight against the expansion of Division I sports at Rutgers which has, he claims, degraded the caliber of students and community at Rutgers. The New York Times last week published an interview with Dowling, in which Dowling says "We tried to take on the monster of commercialized sports, even if it swallowed us up and passed us out the other end. Someone should know that we fought the good fight." However, Dowling's response to a question as to whether Rutgers athletics provided minority students with greater opportunities, has created more controversy. "If you were giving the scholarship to an intellectually brilliant kid who happens to play a sport, that’s fine,” Dowling said. “But they give it to a functional illiterate who can’t read a cereal box, and then make him spend 50 hours a week on physical skills. That’s not opportunity. If you want to give financial help to minorities, go find the ones who are at the library after school.”

Robert Mulcahy immediate decried Dowling's remark as racist, as did University President Richard McCormick. Dowling later said, according to ESPN, "none of these kids would have been able to get into Rutgers if they hadn't been able to throw something or kick something or slam dunk something." However, Rutgers officials claim that the 2.7 grade point average of the football team is on par with the rest of the university.

Clearly, Dowling's remark was was not well thought out... and was inflammatory in many respects. However, Rutgers would do well to remember that its fundamental responsibility is to create opportunities for all of its students to become leaders and productive citizens... and not to produce NFL players or NBA players or Olympic athletes, for that matter.

And that a 2.7 grade point average is cause for concern and might warrant the addition of a few more tutors rather than another increase in the compensation for Coach Schiano or his staff.

10 comments:

Josh said...

Good post overall, but I think you're falling into a trap at the end with the "hire a few more tutors" comment.

Rutgers football players already have far more "academic support" than is available to the student body at large. Spending even more money on tutoring is missing the point, because all this academic support is designed to keep players eligible rather than to educate them. Many (though not all, obviously) of the kids recruited for these sports are already WAY behind where they should be in academics. Making them spend what winds up being 50 hours a week on their sport and lavishing all kinds of temporary fame and fleeting reward on them is the last thing that's going to make them productive citizens, no matter how much "tutoring" you throw into the mix.

I'm guessing that as an Olympian you probably have a "skewed" - by which I mean reasonable and normal - perspective on college athletics. It's "skewed" because football and basketball at D1A schools are not treated like most college sports. They're not part of a "student-athlete" ideal - they're designed to serve a sports money machine.

Mary Mazzio said...

Josh-

Thanks for such a well-reasoned comment to yesterday's posting. My comment at the end to "hire a few more tutors" was a bit facetious.

I completely agree that big time DI sports is not about the traditional 'student-athlete' and many of these DI programs have spiraled out of control. I spoke at a large university a couple of years ago - and the athletic staff told me that the football players are all put up at a downtown hotel for all home games (so that they could be focussed on the game.) The hotel costs alone for one or two games would support an entire wrestling team for a season. Money and television rights fees in particular have corrupted football and basketball - - and the justification for paying these coaches (and dismantling other sports so that a larger part of the budget can support football and basketball) makes no real logical sense.

The real challenge is this: many athletic directors are former football or basketball coaches - and are steeped in a culture and tradition... which means that some skinny swimmers or tennis players or fencers or rowers have no chance in hell if the budget for football or basketball is threatened.

Thanks for your comment, Josh.

Clayman said...

Robert Mulcahy's decision to cut sports is disingenuous at best and fails miserably to meet the needs and best interests of Rutgers's students. New Jerseyans should ask him if college athletics are principally intended to provide extracurricular opportunities for students, with all the advantages and lessons associated with intercollegiate competition, or to provide entertainment for New Jersey residents. Ask the members of the crew team how they feel about it. As for cutting the budget, ask any wrestler: he’ll tell you that when required to cut weight, he doesn’t cut off his feet.

Mary Mazzio said...

Clayman-

Great analogy about wrestlers not cutting off their feet when they have to lose weight.

Donna Lopiano, the former head of the Women's Sports Foundation, had a similar thought. "If you only have enough money for a big steak and you have 2 kids, a girl and a boy," she said, "you don't give the whole steak to the boy - - and you don't give the whole steak to the girl, either. You split the damn thing."

Thanks so much for your comment.

michelle hillison said...

I love football, don't get me wrong. I make most of my living off football and basketball in fact. I'm also a woman who played sports and the mother of a young daughter who loves sports too.

I fail to see how ADs can compartmentalize sports. That may work financially on the HS level but it doesn't hold water on the collegiate level. Football is bloated beyond belief.

Where is the balance? Why do young men competing in Olympic sports have to be told it is because of young women's sports that they can't compete anymore at their school?

The ADs and their booster clubs are to blame for playing this arms race of a game over coaches and facilities. Sadly I'm part of the problem too I suspect. I'm a booster as well, I want the program I love to do well. I supported hiring the new expensive coach.

By being a fan of my favorite college's football program am I dooming the athletes, male and female, of my child's generation to less of a sports experience?

Mary Mazzio said...

Michelle's question is a really interesting conundrum. If you are a fan and booster of a college football team, are you dooming your children (who may have not had the luck to carry the DI football or basketball gene) to a lesser sports experience?

For sure, it depends upon the school or university and the character of the athletic director installed. How many young men and women is the athletic department serving? Are they supporting swimming and rowing and wrestling and tennis and other Olympic sports? It is usually when a men's program is eliminated that an athletic director will often use TITLE IX as a crutch or excuse, instead of the true fact, which is the budget is less than expected. As a prior blogger wrote, a wrestler doesn't cut off his feet to lose weight. Similarly, trimming a football progam in order to offer other sports to undergraduates is the fair and equitable thing to do. All of these kids pay tuition and deserve an equal opportunity to participate in the sport of their choice.

But Michelle has raised an interesting point - and one which I will chew on as I cheer my favorite team, The Patriots, onto the SuperBowl.

Jennie said...

UNH recently went through a similar bunch of cuts - men's swimming, tennis and... women's crew was "demoted" back to club sport status after 10 years as a varsity sport. What was appalling was the behavior of the AD and others as they made the announcement. The story goes that when members of the women's crew showed up at the press conference to announce the cuts, campus security was calle and they "removed" the women's team! I went to a protest at the NH statehouse with a bunch of athletes, parents, alums and had a meeting with Gov. Lynch. He was receptive and sympathetic, but sent us off to chase down the trustees. We didn't make much progress there. All of the cuts actually saved very little money, and the real goal here was to feed the insatiable "big three."

I am really concerned about the direction we are going in sport Your blog addresses two of the issues that concern me right now: the sacrifice of the “non-revenue producing” men’s (and in some cases women’s) sports for a few bloated men’s programs (Rutgers) and the continued, possibly growing inequities for high school girls sports(Michigan Title IX Law Suit). Conversations about the first issue are fraught with diversionary tactics which shift public attention away from the bloated budgets of a few. Title IX and the girls and women who want opportunities to play and have their programs supported get blamed for the decisions many AD’s make to chop a bunch of men’s sports so that they can pump up the budgets for one or two teams. And the conversations about inequities in high school athletics which leave girls feeling like second class citizens are suppressed in a number of ways. A good example is the case of Roderick Jackson, who went all the way to the Supreme Court to get protection for SPEAKING about discrimination. Its bad enough that discriminiation exists, its worse that people are silenced when they try to name it and often the consequences are extreme (job loss, hate male, etc). There are many, many cases of people being squeezed in some way for trying to bring these issues to the public’s attention, but we only hear about a few of them. (check out this article that describes the Roderick Jackson story http://sports.espn.go.com/ncw/news/story?id=2694510 )

The danger right now is that the conventional wisdom says "title ix made such a big difference - look where we are today!" and where we are is supposedly equity nirvana. The recent reports on the status of Title IX show differently. The optimistic rhetoric is blinding people from seeing the truth.

Mary Mazzio said...

Jennie-

Loved your comments. For Jennie and Josh, Clayman, Michelle, and anyone who blogged here, feel free to email me at office@50eggs.com for a free LIFE IS GOOD hat. Email your address and we'll get it out to you.

Thanks to you all for such thought provoking comments.

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